Why Diversity Matters

Creativity and innovation are essential to the pharmaceutical sector.

Nov 7, 2005
Trish Lawrence
<p>THE WAY IT WAS:</p>

© Getty Images

Research used to be a male-dominated sector, but the employment makeup has changed dramatically over the years.

Creativity and innovation are essential to the pharmaceutical sector. A diverse workplace can make for novel and innovative science brought about via the richness of different approaches and experiences, and add to the robustness of proposals and solutions.1 All these elements make diversity not just a "nice to have," but also a tool for success in the fast-changing environment of the industry's future.

Diversity can mean many things in this context: women holding key middle- and senior-management positions, different age groups, ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and even people from nontraditional educational backgrounds or nonlinear career paths.

The challenge for organizations is to capture the energy such diverse teams can produce in the most meaningful way for their businesses. In recent years, Pfizer has taken a number of steps to promote diversity in its workforce worldwide, including diversity awareness training, increasing the number and types of network groups, mentoring schemes, and working towards creative solutions to accommodate requests for flexible working arrangements, in line with business needs. Equally important is the ongoing measurement of the effectiveness of the initiatives and programs we are putting in place.

Many organizations see diversity in a limited way, and don't go beyond a focus on recruiting more people from minority groups. This is not enough. Successful companies seek not only to accommodate different perspectives, but also to restructure the organization by listening to these new perspectives so that the whole culture changes.

By focusing solely on recruitment, organizations run the risk that nothing will change and that after initial employment in a noninclusive culture, these new colleagues will leave. Industry can't afford to be risk-averse and shy away from new ways of working. For example, we must recognize that women may bring to the table experiences and skills gained in raising children, while individuals with a disability may have a unique view fostered by learning to cope with everyday activities.

By 2010 in the United Kingdom, only 18% of the workforce will be white, male, not disabled, under 35 years old, and heterosexual.2 Recognizing this and widening the recruitment pool to employ more colleagues from minority groups can be a superficial exercise if these new employees must then adapt their behavior to a workplace whose culture has not changed. For example, leadership-training courses for senior women often encourage them to adopt traditionally "male" skills and thus reinforce the current, static culture. Also, firms may look for future leaders using criteria based on current values, thus making it difficult to identify leaders in minority groups.

<p>Trish Lawrence</p>

One solution is to make sure real listening to minority individuals occurs through the two-way relationship of mentoring. Network or affinity groups, with senior leaders as part of their committees, can also channel employees' concerns, issues, and ideas back into the organization. Forums and focus groups can be a rich source of information, too. Real listening is necessary to fully understand commonalities and differences and prevent the development of micro-inequalities, as well as overt discrimination.

The views of all staff should shape the way an organization is run. Everyone must have access to development and promotion opportunities, to enable them to reach their full potential. Leaders from all backgrounds will emerge. Leadership will then begin to reflect the workforce, and as more diverse role models are established the organizational culture will evolve. This is an important message that can be communicated to shareholders to secure funding, as well as to patients who want to feel their needs are fully understood.

Diversity is survival skill in the life sciences, because there is no other way to accurately capture any complex problem or system. We cannot create a true picture of the whole or reach valid decisions if we do not respect the fact that we each see something different because of who we are and where we sit in the system. Exploring different perspectives also brings people closer together, and for an organization this means working cohesively towards a shared goal. Listening to opinions makes people feel valued, and this leads to commitment – real buy-in.

Looking at the gender issue, the media reports that in the UK young women have been achieving higher grades at university in the life sciences. We produced our first Agenda Report more than 10 years ago within Pfizer's Global Research and Development organization. The project, designed to investigate how the company can help women become leaders, has shown that men have to be educated as well. Recent research for the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) found that if women return to work part-time after having children, they often have to step off the career ladder and see their pay and status suffer as a result. A third of women working part-time in the United Kingdom are doing jobs below their skill levels simply to get back into work.

Where we have skills shortages and shrinking talent pools, we need to encourage women to enter the life sciences and then provide them with the tools, particularly around work-life balance, to support their careers and enable them to join teams undertaking high-profile projects.

Industry can no longer rely on the tools and techniques management used in the past, which don't suit the new emerging business models or our increasingly knowledge-based workforce. We need a more collaborative style of management, not the command-and-control style preferred in the past. For employees to be effective, organizations need to provide a safe and supportive culture, which will help alleviate domestic stresses that can detract from full effectiveness. This may also require supporting nontraditional career paths as choice may be determined by circumstance.

Addressing the lack of women in leadership roles, Julie Mellor, head of the EOC, stated earlier this year: "The stock market would not allow the waste of capital in the way we tolerate the waste of female talent and ability."3 The more diverse the leadership and particularly the board of an organization, the more competitive advantage can be retained. Competitors may find it harder to predict their future strategy as boards become less predictable!

Research from Catalyst, an independent nonprofit membership organization, found that of 353 companies that remained on the Fortune 500 list between 1996 and 2000, those with a higher proportion of senior women had a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% higher total return to shareholders. Top-performing companies also had a more balanced representation of men and women on their leadership teams. Embracing diversity is not just a matter of complying with legal requirements or meeting moral or ethical obligations. It's an opportunity to manage risk effectively – the risk of not employing the best talent.

Trish Lawrence is Leader Diversity at Pfizer Global Research & Development in Sandwich, UK, and is responsible for developing a strategy and goals for enhancing diversity at the pharmaceutical company's Sandwich division. She joined Pfizer in 2001.

He can be contacted at .